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Open practice gives first look at 2011 Irish

Mar 26, 2011, 10:01 PM EDT

Brian Kelly spring ball

With Notre Dame’s star-studded coaching clinic providing an open door to over 1,000 high school coaches, it also gave the media the opportunity to get their first unfiltered look at the 2011 Irish football team.

In a Loftus Center pushing capacity, Brian Kelly and his coaching staff put the team on display for Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, and a host of others. Here are some assorted snippets and thoughts on what people saw. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t there, I’m roughly 11,000 miles away in Beijing right now…)

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First, some ugly news. Rising sophomore Cam Roberson looked to suffer a serious knee injury that could knock the running back spring depth chart to some dangerously low levels.

“We didn’t like the way it looked so they’re going to have to send him for an MRI,” Kelly said after practice. “Generally when you get a knee you know if it’s a hyperextension or a bruise. They need to send him for an MRI. I never like hearing that news. We’ll know something probably on Monday.”

Kelly announced there’ll be walk-on tryouts Monday morning at 6 a.m. where a group of brave students will audition to become target practice, protecting Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray from the punishment that comes from having only three true scholarship running backs on campus until freshman Cam McDaniel arrives this summer.

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All reports, including his own and his head coach’s, suggest that Dayne Crist has recovered almost fully from a season-ending knee injury. More important than his physical recovery is the comfort he’s feeling in the offensive system during his second spring practice under Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar.

“I feel I’m moving very well, I’m really happy with the knee,” Crist said. “I’ve had zero issues so far. I’ve had no problems with my knee. I feel great. I’m cleared for everything right now, it’s just I’m weak.”

Crist’s comfort level in the offense was evident to those watching practice, with Dayne’s command of the short passing game in much better shape than it was early last season. If there was a weakness in Crist’s game last year it was his accuracy, where the sporadic nature on the long throws was understandable, but the short, high-percentage throws that he missed because of touch or accuracy problems gave people pause on whether or not he’s the proper trigger man for this offense.

While Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer’s appearance at the coaching clinic got the most publicity, Philbin’s attendance should signal the staff’s interest in establishing some pro-style elements to take advantage of Crist’s skillset and big-time arm. The Packers have been on the cutting edge of NFL offenses the past few years and quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly is a great prototype for Crist to model his game after — sneaky running ability and athleticism, as well as a big-time throwing arm.

***

Speaking of quarterbacks, it’s clear that Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson are still in the beginning stages of their development, with Hendrix throwing a few interceptions during practice, including a pick six by cornerback Lo Wood. Golson also struggled with some throws, not entirely surprising considering he shouldn’t even be thinking about his senior prom yet.

With four quarterbacks and four different skillsets, it makes sense that Kelly decided to unload the running game from Charley Molnar’s plate and focus strictly on the aerial attack. As Kelly intimated today, he and Molnar have worked harder planning their quarterbacks development than they ever have before.

“We have so many things going on, our scripting is so diverse. I’ve never scripted this way before,” Kelly said, talking about the different plays he’s installing for his four different quarterbacks. “I’m script for four quarterbacks. All in all, I like the four quarterbacks that we have. I wanted to work with four. We’re working with four. And I think we’re getting better every day.”

***

Charlie Weis tended to get credit for being an elite recruiter, and the reputation was for good reason. But if you’re looking for another reason to prefer Kelly’s philosophy for bringing in players, Exhibit A is Kona Schwenke.

Many thought Schwenke was a throw-in player at the end of a class. He didn’t have elite offers, and looked like a long term project when he came to campus as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound slinky. Well, fast-forward around nine months, and the Irish have developed a guy that’s gained 70 pounds and now looks to be a full-time part of the defensive end rotation.

Kelly explained a little bit more about the Hawaiian’s incredible physical development.

“We hit him at the right spurt,” Kelly said. “Obviously Coach Longo has done a great job. And Kona has done a great job more than anybody else in taking care of himself and eating the right way. You can see that he’s a pretty big kid that’s going to help us.”

The inexact science of growth spurts, physical maturity and bodily changes among 17 to 19-year-old kids is pretty well known, and one of the best things that Kelly’s system does is look for body types and molds, as opposed to finding fully developed football players. Schwenke’s rapid development is a great example of a guy that would’ve never been on the radar of the previous regime, but fills an immediate role at a position of need for the Irish.

 

  1. bluegoldnation - Mar 27, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    In the 2006 class Charlie Weis recruited:

    Kallen Wade, DE

    * POS Rank DE #28
    * HT 6’5″
    * WT 220lbs.
    * HS Withrow H.S. (OH)

    • 1notredamefan - Mar 27, 2011 at 9:36 AM

      Who? Development’s the word….

      • bluegoldnation - Mar 28, 2011 at 7:37 PM

        Listen, I didn’t give any commentary I am just pointing out that Charlie Weis brought in a kid with a similar body type as Schwenke in Kallen Wade. The author said that a kid with the body type of Schwenke that wasn’t fully developed wasn’t on Charlie’s radar and that is inaccurate.

        It has nothing to do with how good of a coach Charlie is/was it was simply to refute the point made in article.

    • whisk3yjack - Mar 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM

      Wade was a typical Weis recruit– 4-star, solid offer list, and got some pub during the 2006 cycle. Complete disappointment on the field due to lack of player development.

      Weis probably wouldn’t have given Schwenke a 2nd look– modest offer list, virtually no buzz during the 2010 cycle.

      As 1notredamefan pointed out, the real difference is in player development; but it’s worth noting that Weis put a lot of stock in nationally rated recruits (with frequently disappointing results), whereas Kelly and his staff seem to be much better talent scouts.

  2. 1notredamefan - Mar 27, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    Check these wallpapers out! The guy over at Irish Envy has done them himself and you won’t find them elsewhere…..http://www.irishenvy.com/forums/leprechaun-lounge/59019-few-wallpapers.html

  3. 1notredamefan - Mar 27, 2011 at 10:03 AM

  4. smurphdoggy29 - Mar 29, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    If Kelly delivers on his stated goals, as he did in 2010, then the Irish will have an outstanding 2011. In the beginning of 2010 Kelly said the team would be better and more productive at the end of the campaign than people could imagine. It was true, results prove it, based on that if Kelly says they are going to continue to progress it is exciting to think where they’ll end up. Schwenke is a microcosm of the overall program, solid from the foundation up, and production will be consistent. Happy Times !!

    • papadec - Mar 31, 2011 at 1:34 AM

      AMEN Brother – AMEN.

  5. NotreDan - Apr 6, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    Open with a solid win.

    Go to Ann Arbor (I’ll be there) and rout the Wolverines….

    The rest falls into place.

    Their defense is going to be scary good, which will have a PROFOUND impact on the flexibility and success of the offense.

    GO IRISH!!

  6. mbrown2 - Apr 16, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    i like that they are looking for potential

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